Sustainability 101

The Link Between Selfishness, Happiness, and Being Green

258At Great Forest, we are always interested in what motivates green behavior. So when we found out that our very own Kevin McNab completed his Masters thesis paper last year on the relationship between environmentally responsible behavior (ERB) and subjective well-being (SWB), we asked him to summarize his findings for us.

His research, which included a survey of nearly 1,000 students, offers some practical insights that we can all use. Among them, a possible relationship between environmentally responsible behavior and happiness! Here’s Kevin:

There are numerous types of environmental behaviors and many people are green to an extent, but I wanted to find out what drives people to go above and beyond.

One of the more interesting things I found in my study was that people who admitted to being conscious about ERB like recycling and energy efficiency were also generally happier. While this does not conclusively show that performing environmentally-beneficial behaviors causes you to be happier, there definitely seems to be a relationship between ERB and happiness.

Most people tend to associate environmental behavior with altruism, such as concern for others or the environment. People equate being green with self-sacrifice. However, it turns out that altruism is often not the most effective motivator of ERB. To best encourage environmental behavior, altruistic motives should be combined with “selfish” motives that affect one’s well-being. For example, becoming aware that improving recycling participation in your building can save money on disposal costs, or that diverting materials from the landfill may lead to a cleaner, healthier environment.  This is what psychologists call a “multiply desirable choice.” When environmentally-beneficial behavior is in line with one’s well-being, this type of behavior is likely to be adopted and persist.

So if you want to encourage green behavior in your business or organization, show the many diverse benefits that employees can realize by acting in an environmentally-responsible way. Explain the “triple bottom line,” how green initiatives affect profit, people, and the planet. Show how money saved can be put to use in ways that benefit employees; perhaps offer incentives for reaching a sustainability goal. Instead of just telling your staff to recycle, show them how recycling is not only good for the environment, but potentially for their well-being also.

While this may seem obvious, it is something that even the biggest corporations sometimes forget to do. So the next time you re-evaluate your green programs, don’t forget to talk about how your corporate sustainability goals affect your employees too. After all, we are all in this together.

Related: Get The Message With Big Green Statements

Read the rest of the November 2013 newsletter

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